BootsnAll Travel Network

Reflections – Australia

As many people warned me, 3 months is just not enough time to do all of Australia, though I did try my best to see the things I wanted to most. My friend Lora had 4 1/2 months, did everything she wanted to except Tasmania, spent almost 3 weeks in Darwin, so that seems like a good amount of time to do “everything.” My 2 1/2 weeks at the sheep station would otherwise have been used on the East Coast probably, but I wouldn’t trade in that experience for a few more beach days. I’ll have plenty of those coming up. Doing the drive from Perth to Darwin, I would say you need at least a month to not go insane. Any less than that, and you will be exhausted, trying to go from place to place with no rest in between. Add more if you intend to visit the Kimberley.

For those interested in costs while traveling, Australia is similar to New Zealand, except I had a worse exchange rate. The distances also make transportation costs a stark reality, that you won’t be getting anywhere cheaply. Buyng a bus or train pass makes sense if you know you will make it worth it, as does an air pass if you are well planned ahead of time. Food is also surprisingly expensive, and unless you are eating pasta everynight, it doesn’t always makes sense to cook alone, as some takeaways are cheaper than buying groceries. Cooking as a group can cuts costs however. All costs are in Australia dollars, due to everyone having different exchange rates.

$260.00 Overnight train (The Ghan) from Darwin to Alice Springs

$140 Flight from Airlie Beach to Sydney, booked three days ahead

$1.31-1.73 (Liter of petrol. It is cheapest in the cities, the most expensive was a roadhouse outside of Exmouth, the only fuel for 500km.)

$2-6 One hour of internet. Again, cheapest in cities, most expensive in small towns.

$50 Doctor visit in Cairns.

$5-7 Pint of beer. Local stuff is the cheapest.

$10 a kilo of bananas. Because of the cyclone wiping out most of the banana crop, you have to really like bananas.

$2 loaf of wholemeal bread

$1 liter of skim milk

$16-31 hostel bed. Cheapest was in Alice and a great twin room in Pemberton. Most expensive was Sydney.

$250 + 25 Park fee  3 day Ayers Rock tour. The cheapest around, you can do it for more.

$8-10 Fish and chips takeaway

$330 Day long whale shark tour. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience at this price.

$445 3 day Whitsundays sailing. Like anything, you can go cheaper or much more expensive, depending on what you want.

Australia is such a huge country, it is impossible to give an opinion about what it is like as a whole. On one hand, it is a country of the pursuit of having fun, and beach and surf culture permeate the lives of almost all the citizens here. The outdoors have there place as well, with sports and active pursuits available even in the smallest towns. It is so similar to the US in culture, but with a slight British accent detectable only if you look for it. While the National Parks that I visited were beautiful, the rest of the country is fairly bleak and boring, though the constant dry earth and scrubby bush as far as the eye can see are beautiful in their own way. It is amazing how much of the country looks exactly the same, at least to my non-native eyes. Driving in the country is frustratingly boring, and you very rarely actually drive through beautiful landscapes, those are your destination, not your journey.

The attitude and treatment of the Aboriginal people proved my initial observations, it is sad and disheartening. While they seem to have made some strides in giving some land back to the tribes and control over some National Parks, such as Kakadu, it was by far the least enjoyable part of my trip. I had so many conversations with Australian people, much of it unsolicited, about how horrible and worthless the Aboriginal people are. My browsing through an art gallery somehow became a discussion on how they are all drunks and all the government does is throw more money at them. My reply that if they didn’t give them money, the children might not be taken care of, was met with a blank stare, as if to say, I don’t really care if the children are fed and sheltered. I’m not sure what the solution is, and I can’t pass judgement on how the government is trying to handle the situation. But it is the people’s attitudes that is highly disturbing to me, the comments that come from nowhere, the opinion that they are an “evil people,” and things like that, really are harsh reminders that racism is alive and well here, as in any country that has an indigenous population that isn’t adjusting to their new and forced way of life. LIving in Chicago, I don’t have the opportunity to see our Native American population, though I understand there is trouble with alcoholism and joblessness as well. Interesting, as neither people had alcohol in their societies previous to colonization. I hope that more progress is made to help this segment of society, and we should look toward New Zealand I think as a starting off point, where Maori culture is recognized and respected as a part of New Zealand society.

On a lighter note, I found for the most part the Australian people warm, helpful and fun-loving, even if they give us way too much crap for being Americans. There are some outstanding, liveable cities here, including Melbourne, Perth and Darwin, and Sydney is a bustling starting off point. Some of the smaller towns however, as sad little things, clinging to a few tourist attractions, and losing some of their population to the bigger cities for job every year. They make some really nice wine in the country, especially the big reds, and a visit to Australia isn’t complete with at least a wine tour somewhere in the wine regions. Good Australia beers, forget Fosters, I’ve never even seen it here, include Cascade, Coopers, and a small brewery Little Creatures. The huge delicious portions of fish and chips available seemingly everywhere, will satisy even the hungriest diners.

Though I saw quite a bit while I was here, a return trip is definately in order. I’d like to see Tasmania and search for the hopefully not extinct Tasmanian tiger. I’d like to spend more time exploring the ins and outs of Melbourne and Perth, and see an AFL game at the MCG. I missed out on Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, and tons of towns on the East Coast where you can waste quite a bit of time enjoying yourself doing nothing. I wish I had spent more time in Adelaide and the surrounding region, and would have liked to be able to visit Karijini National Park, and rent a 4WD to tour the Kimberley properly. Of the things I did do, here are my favorite:

1. The Top End – Kakadu National Park, Darwin, Mindil night market, cool nights and loads of Aboriginal art. It was all good.

2. Swimming with the whale sharks. Shockingly huge but serene these huge creatures made it a great day out.

3. Sailing the Whitsundays on a small sailboat. Sublime.

4. Spending New Year’s Eve outside. I’ll never again be huddled in a pub fighting off the cold.

5. Watching kangaroos bouncing away. I never got tired of it.

And the worst part of my job, the least favorite:

1. One day Geike Gorge trip. Expensive, dull and totally unnecessary. Don’t do it.

2. The drive from Exmouth to Broome, and Broome to Kununurra. Drive, eat, refuel, drive, eat, refuel, avoid hitting cow, drive, refuel, drive, refuel.

3. Cairns. Hot, humid, and a big strip mall type atmostphere. Dangerous to swim in the ocean, dangerous to go in the rain forests, and the town with little appeal to stick around for very long. Do your reef trip and get out.

4. 48 hour train ride from Broken Hill to Perth. Break it up, and spend a few days in Adelaide or Kalgoorlie if you have time. And bring a pillow.

5. Uluru. After all the hype, the pictures and stories, it was a letdown to me. I enjoyed The Olgas and King’s Canyon much better.

Thanks to everyone who has offered comments and helpful suggestions to my trip. Keep reading for my forays into Asia.

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